Field marketing is the unsung discipline in the marketing mix. It is growing rapidly year-on-year and accounts for an increasing slice of marketing budgets, but ask clients what they think it involves and you may well draw a blank.
That was certainly the result of research carried out by the industry's trade body, the Field Marketing Council (FMC) over the past 18 months. FMC chairman Alison Williams says: 'Field marketing hasn't promoted itself in the best way. But we're a grown-up industry - we're growing 40% a year - and we need to address these serious issues of lack of awareness.'
The FMC became part of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) a year and a half ago. At that time, membership stood at barely a dozen, but the recent research, has helped attract high-profile members, including FMCG, CPM and ID Marketing. FMCG chief executive Kate Carr says: 'We were approached to join using the argument that if we wanted to be serious about the industry, the major players needed to be there.'
Several more are in the process of joining or considering such a move.
In addition, the FMC is in the process of finalising a set of best practice guidelines, which will complement the DMA's existing guidelines and lay out a framework for quality and professionalism within the industry.
A positive move
The general consensus seems to be that the FMC's absorption into the DMA has been a positive move. It has allowed companies that do not consider themselves to be pure field marketing companies to join the council's ranks.
ID director Paul Ephremsen says: 'Most people have seen field marketing as simply merchandising, mystery shopping and the use of temporary sales personnel, but the past few years has seen a massive growth in the sexier end of the market, such as high-profile sampling campaigns, roadshows and experiential marketing. The FMC needs to attract members that represent this part of the market.'
PMI Marketing managing director James Moyies adds: 'The fact that the FMC is part of the DMA means that it can operate as a professional organisation and coordinate enquiries with no vested interests.'
Having taken a wait-and-see approach to membership, Moyies is now keen to join. 'We have been watching carefully to see how things develop, and a number of agencies have now joined. Our intention is to join sooner rather than later.'
Some agencies still prefer to plough their own furrow, however. RPM, which ranked 13th in Marketing magazine's recent field marketing league table and was named the fastest-growing agency, does not intend to join.
RPM managing director Ross Urquhart says: 'We operate in a specialised area, creating and managing live brand experiences. We feel that much of the work of the FMC, good as it may be, is of limited relevance to our business. It may be helping to raise the overall profile of field marketing, but all too often it seems to be aligning that with data and volume-driven activities which are poles apart from the experience-led side of the business.'
In general, however, most agencies believe FMC membership has its benefits.
Not least of which are the practical professional services on offer to members.
'The FMC provides professional advice from qualified experts on legal and employment matters,' says Sure Field Marketing managing director Richard Finch. 'If I were to go out and acquire that myself, it would cost a lot of money. And, because they act on behalf of a wide number of my peer group, they understand the issues that I'm talking about.'
He also cites the eagerly awaited best practice guidelines as a valuable tool. 'It gives recognition that we are a quality field marketing company - clients know we have been vetted and are reassured that we subscribe to certain standards.'
This view is echoed by CPM managing director Tom Preece. 'This represents an important first step in developing a core set of standards for field marketing organisations,' he says. 'It will help gain further support for the FMC and raise the profile of field marketing as a whole.'
However, there is some debate over the voluntary nature of the guidelines.
'We're getting to grips with the fact that they are not mandatory,' says FMCG's Carr. 'I don't think there's any way of auditing whether people are complying. In fact, it's hard to see how one could audit compliance while maintaining client confidentiality.'
Another potential problem is whether smaller companies will be able to comply with the guidelines. The UK Field Marketing Company managing director Bobby Collins says: 'We will embrace the guidelines, but because of our size, the administration can't be too onerous, otherwise there's too much paperwork.'
The same goes for membership of the FMC itself. 'In the fullness of time I would like to make an application and would hope to be accepted. But under the rules I think you have to attend eight meetings, and as there are only six of us here, that could be difficult. I'm not sure if I can afford to be in London every six weeks.'
For the future, the FMC has a number of projects in the pipeline. Along with the best practice guidelines, the association will issue a User's Guide to Field Marketing, using case studies to push the discipline to potential clients. These will form the basis of a marketing and PR drive.
In addition, a training and education committee has been set up to ensure that people taking marketing qualifications receive lectures or training in field marketing. And a membership, communication and events committee will work on creating events to allow members to promote to potential clients, as well as seeking relevant opportunities at existing events.
Finally, the FMC will target industry issues, lobbying the EU on matters such as employment legislation.
Joining the DMA 18 months ago was a key step for the field marketing industry, but, as Headcount managing director Mike Garnham points out: 'Now is when the work begins. The day we joined the DMA was not the day we sat back and relaxed; it was the day the work started to publicise the business and make the industry a better place to be.'
BEST PRACTICE - THE GUIDELINES
The FMC's best practice guidelines are designed to complement those of the DMA. At the core is the imperative for the work of FMC members to be legal, decent, honest and truthful. Activity should be carried out with a sense of social responsibility, and do nothing to impair the professional standing of the field marketing industry.
Aspects of professional conduct include:
- Assuming responsibility for fair sales activity, product value and information
- Compliance with relevant UK and EU law
- Maintaining a high standard of work and meeting client briefs
- Commitment to field employees and their training
- Compliance with the DMA complaints procedure
The code also contains guidelines on responsibilities when conducting field marketing. Specific procedures demanded by the code range from the use of identity badges for doorstep work, to the avoidance of nut-based products for sampling activity.